Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Vancouver 2010: It's Not Over Yet!

Brian McKeever isn't done yet.

This year, when the talented Canadian skier qualified to compete in the men's 50-kilometer cross-country race at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, he made headlines. However, there were only four spots available for five Canadian competitors, so coach Inge Braten had to make the difficult decision to leave him off the start list, reserving him as an alternate.

What distinguished McKeever from the rest of the competitors is the fact that he is legally blind.

Though crushed, McKeever kept his spirits up. "I understand the decision," he said, through tears. "Our boys are racing so fast. They've deserved everything they've gotten. I stand behind them 100 per cent."

Still, McKeever has a lot to be proud of. He is the first athlete ever to qualify for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Paralympic Games, first held in 1960 in Rome, are an event for athletes with physical disabilities. Since 1988, the Paralympics have been held in the same cities and venues as the Olympic games, and from 2012 onwards, all host cities will be contracted to organize and oversee both competitions.

This year, the Paralympics will be held in Vancouver and Whistler from March 12 to March 21. Athletes from around the world with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, visual impairment, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, amputations, and congenital limb deformities will compete in a series of events ranging from alpine skiing to sledge hockey.

Watching these athletes compete provides not only inspiration and hope, but also vivid, visual lessons on how to turn those hopes and dreams into real action. Whether you're a sports fan or not, this blatant shattering of the notions of success and limitations many of us have grown to accept is a refreshing jolt to both the heart and the mind.

Although they train just as hard and often overcome much bigger challenges than Olympic athletes, Paralympic athletes haven't yet gotten the kind coverage they are due.

This year, that could change. In the United States, NBC Sports and Universal Sports have signed on to broadcast the Games, which will be sponsored by GE. In Canada, the Paralympics will get 50 more hours of television coverage than they did in Turin 2006, a marked improvement.

Two years ago, my brother Zameer (a Toronto-based singer/songwriter who I play with) and I had the honor of meeting Canadian Paralympic sledge hockey players Brad Bowden and Paul Rosen, who brought home a gold medal for the team in 2006. Brad, who had also scored a second gold medal in wheelchair basketball that year, was born with sacral agenesis, a congenital spinal abnormality that has resulted in severe deformities in his lower limbs. Paul, the team's goalie, had one of his legs amputated following complications from a serious leg injury during a hockey game when he was young.

Zameer had written a song called Win or Defeat, about challenging conventional notions of success and defining it for ourselves, something he'd been struggling with as an independent artist, and was looking for ideas for a music video. When we came across the incredible, moving stories of these athletes, it clicked as the perfect vehicle to demonstrate the concept of the song. So we teamed up with Brad and Paul to make the first music video ever to feature real Paralympic athletes in action. The song, produced by five-time Grammy winner Steve Thompson, subsequently went into rotation on Canada's MuchMusic, and we're proud to have done our small part in introducing these remarkable athletes to many Canadians who hadn't come across them before.

Next week, Brian McKeever, Brad Bowden, and Paul Rosen will be back in Vancouver to keep the Paralympic flame going, and bring their awesome talent to a larger television and streaming internet audience than ever before. Stephen Colbert, are you listening?

As awareness about the Games grows, these athletes and their peers will continue to inspire and motivate more and more of us to challenge ourselves and reset our boundaries, while teaching us how to turn our dreams into reality.

The Games start Friday, March 12. Don't forget to tune in.